Aaron Stewart Home off to "great" start
David Perry -- Furniture Today, December 17, 2013
San Juan, Puerto Rico - It's been about three months since Aaron Stewart and his partner relocated here to launch his eponymous home furnishings store, and so far life has lived up to the Caribbean island's "Isla del Encanto" nickname: Enchanting.
The majority of merchandise at Aaron Stewart Home is not available elsewhere in Puerto Rico.
"It is great here! We love it," Stewart told HTT. "We're having a great time."
And the same goes for the new business, Aaron Stewart Home, which officially opened its doors Oct. 29.
"Everyone I so excited about the store, they say they needed it so badly here," Stewart said. "About 80% to 90% of our product is not available anywhere else on the island, so we've been able to offer something different from anything else here."
He quickly added: "We didn't come here to put anyone out of business. We came to bring new things to the island that compliment what is out there already."
In Good Company
Situated in a 3,200-square-foot space in the historic Puerta de Tierra building at 301 Ponce de Leon Ave., Stewart said the location is comfortably nestled in a section of downtown that is undergoing a renaissance.
"We have amazing neighbors - [furniture house] Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams and [Italian furniture house] Poliform, plus a new gallery right above us and another gallery that opened about six months ago. We are part of an effort to make this area the new design district for San Juan, and it is very exciting to be part of this cool area."
An added bonus: "We're also one block from the ocean, and that is pretty amazing in itself."
Linens from the store's anchor brands of John Robshaw, Matouk and Kim Seybert, among others, are a major component of Aaron Stewart Home's assortment, and are displayed on two beds on the selling floor.
The store occupies 3,200 square feet in the historic Puerta de Tierra building on Ponce de Leon Avenue.
"Everyone is excited to have to have these products available to them here, and they are ecstatic that we can do monogramming on their sheets and towels because it's not really available anywhere else," he said. "And I think people are just excited in general about the assortment we offer because we made sure there is something for everyone. People come in and spend probably an hour just looking at everything, which is very cool to see."
That said, gifts are also an important part of the mix, as area shoppers are still on a learning curve about high-end linens, Stewart noted.
"In New York City, no one thinks twice about spending $300 on decorative pillow," he explained. "But here it will take a little more education for them to be ready to spend $250 on a decorative pillow at our store. It is really about education."
So Stewart has a plan in place to offer enhanced customer service to help his clientele understand the different quality levels and workmanship features of his luxury linens branded offerings.
"When someone picks up a Matouk pillow case, we want them to pay attention to the detail in the product," Stewart said. "We want to draw their attention to the quality, tell them that it is hand-sewn in Massachusetts and talk them through the thread count, so that they don't just get sticker shock. They might not understand at first the different between a $30 decorative pillow from [an off-price chain store] and a $250 from our store. But we're hoping to help them understand it in time."
That's not to say Stewart wants to urge his shoppers to break their piggy banks. Rather, his plan is to cultivate healthy and lasting relationships with his customers using a gentler strategy.
In 2014, the Aaron Stewart Home will begin holding trunk shows and other special events.
"We want to work with them within their budgets, and help them work with what they have at home," he said. "I don't want to sell someone a $4,000 set of sheets if they can't afford it. But maybe we can work with them to buy two standard or euro shams now, take them home and see how they like them, and then they come back and we can build from there."
Drawing Them In
At the same time, Stewart is meeting his store's needs via a new approach to business in the New Year.
"We will be focusing on events here like trunk shows and book signings to make the store a destination to visit and learn," he said, "and that comes from my days at Martha Stewart. It's all about always learning new things."
In the queue are several designers scheduled to make appearances in spring 2014 at Aaron Stewart Home, including:
- Kim Seybert, who will offer tips of setting a decorative table for special occasions;
- John Robshaw, who will talk about many signature collections;
- Amanda Nesbitt, designer of rugs, fabrics and lighting;
- Ronda Carman, style blogger.
In January, Aaron Stewart Home will add high-end furniture by Verellan to its mix, initially a soda and four chairs.
With so much to look forward to, it is no wonder Stewart has found a happy home for himself and his new endeavor.
"Many people have told us they love coming in for the vibe, the positive attitude," he said. "It's part of what is drawing people in here - our excitement for the store. Everyone is excited to be a part of this, and it shows."
On the other side of his business, Stewart and his partner, Fernando Rodriguez, are also working on several major interior design projects for luxury condos and hotels as well as a high-end pop-up shop on the island.
"We came down here with the intention of opening the store but also doing other things in design, style, marketing and branding," he explained. "So one thing has led to another and we've gotten some great jobs doing design work, which we love."
The best part of it all: "We live three minutes from work. It's amazing."
Oh, and one more thing: "In Puerto Rico, the people are lovely. We're very happy here."
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